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Shaq Takes Era of Center With Him In Retirement

When Shaq officially announced his retirement June 1 — in the way only Shaquille O’Neal can — I was saddened. Saddened not in the way I was when the Lakers ducked out on Phil Jackson in his last year coaching, or when I found out being in Brownies didn’t mean you actually got to eat them, but saddened in a different way.

It took me about a week to realize why. This is the end of an era. The end of truly entertaining athletes in the way Shaq was. Now, every athlete has their own personal soapbox to share their thoughts and eccentricities in such a way that sometimes fans find off-putting. But Shaq is the last of his kind that took his notoriety and made it fun without being truly overbearing.

It’s also the end of another era – the era of the big man. Shaq is the last true center of his time whose presence on the court was overpowering. Coupled with his ability to move with all he had, he was a defensive nightmare.

The lack of centers entering the big leagues has become noticeable in the past few years, but it’s a trend that has trickled down to the college level. A historically center-focused team such as Georgetown, who produced arguably three of the top 5 NBA centers of all-time, has begun to focus more on the point guard position.

The 6-foot-10 senior center Georgetown currently boasts, though charismatic and a decent assist in the lane defensively, is nothing compared to the Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing and Dikembe Mutombo of an earlier time. Henry Sims averaged 3.6 points per game and 1.2 assists per game in the 2010-11 season. He never touched double digits in rebounds and achieved the feat only twice in points.

Shaq averaged three and four times those numbers as Big Shamroq this past season, his worst numbers in 19 seasons — 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in 37 games. The 15-time All-Star with as many eponyms as career points carried the center position to new heights and is a force of nature for his ability to combine his on- and off-court performances like no other did or will.

Though not a great shooter, Shaq got to the glass in a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Bill Walton fashion while winning four championships with the assistance of two undeniable Hall-of-Famers, both of which could not have achieved the success they did without Shaq.

I am confident the Diesel will not return to the court and I am even more confident no one like him will either. With as much entertainment he has given his fans off the court, Shaq will have plenty to do to fill his time. And as much as this seemed like his time considering his low output, poor health and inability to recover from Achilles injury, the lack of Shaq-ness on the court will be a reminder of a lost time.

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